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Dog Word of the Day: What is Flea Dirt?

Flea Dirt in Dogs

New dog owners, but also seasoned dog owners may sometimes stumble on curious terms and flea dirt is one of them, but exactly what is flea dirt? The term may raise some curiosity as people may be wondering what on earth do fleas have to do with dirt. Yet, once you understand what's being talked about exactly, you will grasp that the definition is nothing fun and perhaps you'll find it even a tad bit revolting. So today let's discover more about flea dirt, what it is and some secrets of the trade to figure out whether your dog is dealing with real dirt or flea dirt.

Life as a Flea

dog scratching

Fleas are small brown insects that are incapable of flying but that have made of jumping their primary means of transportation allowing them to hop around the world. And what great hoppers they are! These critters are capable of easily leaping a distance that is 50 times greater their body length!

These pesky parasites are little vampires who make a living by consuming blood from their hosts, which can be dogs, cats and even humans if they are hungry enough. Being very small, it's not very easy to detect their presence once they live on a dog's coat, but attentive owners know what to look for.

First of all, a tell-tale sign of presence of fleas is the dog's response to them. Affected dogs will itch, scratch and act quite bothered by these critters biting and crawling on their skin. These symptoms may be greatly amplified in dogs allergic to flea saliva (flea allergy dermatitis), causing the victims to act quite miserably even if just one tiny flea happens to be on their coats.

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Fleas can also be identified by brushing the dog with a flea comb. This comb has particularly long bristles that may capture live fleas when the dog is brushed. And then you have the presence of flea dirt which can be easily identified even with the naked eye.

Did you know? Just a male and female fleaare capable of producing about twenty thousand fleas over a three month period!

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what is flea dirt

What is Flea Dirt ?

What comes in, gotta come out someway. When fleas consume a blood meal from your dog, at some point they will have to use the toilet. Fleas care less about being private about it, so why not poop on the host? Introducing flea dirt, small brownish/black specks found on your dog's coat which are simply the flea's waste. Many dog owners describe it as "black specks of pepper" or "dirt" that can be very easily seen on dogs with white or light coats.

Now, not always those black specks are actual flea dirt, in some cases it may happen that those specks are actually really dirt or debris that has settled on a dog's coat after romping around the yard. So how can one tell the two possible things apart? Well, there's an easy way. Here's what to do.

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Grab a paper towel and place it on en even surface, like a table. Next, collect some "dirt' from your dog and place it one the paper towel. Next, drip a little bit of water on the particles and take a peak at the color. If the paper around the "dirt" turns red, then it is flea dirt, explains veterinarian Dr. P. If it's brownish black instead, chances are, it's really actual dirt or debris.

Why does the flea dirt turn red when wet? Well, the answer is a bit gross. Since fleas consume your dog's blood, their poop simply consists of digested blood and will therefore turn red when it's wet. Yup, gross, isn't it?

old dog

Getting Rid of Dog Fleas

So your dog has fleas, there's no bones about it, what's next to do? Your goal is to kill all the fleas on top of your dog, but what's on your dog is actually just the tip of the iceberg. Just think that flea populations consist of 50 percent eggs, 35 percent larvae, 10 percent pupae and just 5 percent adults!

Eggs, larvae and pupae are therefore very likely living in your dog's environment, getting ready to develop into adults so that they can hop on your dog and continue the life cycle. So killing those fleas on your dog is only a little part of the job.

In order to completely eradicate the flea population, you will also need to kill all the eggs living in your dog's bedding, carpet and cracks and crevices of your home. While topical products like Frontline Plus are capable of killing adult fleas in under 36 hours it may take some time for them to kill the entire flea life cycle (like up to 3 months), you may therefore want a faster way to quickly kill all the flea eggs and larvae in the environment. This is best done using insect growth regulators (IGR).

A fast way to kill the entire flea life cycle is to use a product known as "Knockout Spray" suggests veterinarian Dr. Matt. It also helps washing your dog's bedding in hot water and vacuuming often so to kill those pesky fleas faster.

Did you know? Fleas bring a whole lot of revenue and business. Statistics show that in the USA alone, about $2.8 billion is spent annually on flea-related veterinary bills and 4 billion dollars are spent yearly for prescription flea treatment!

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  • Crosby, J.T. "What is the Life Cycle of the Flea?". Veterinary Parasites. About Home. Retrieved 4 November 2016.
  • Hinkle, Nancy C.; Koehler, Philip G. (2008). Capinera, John L., ed. Cat Flea, Ctenocephalides felis felis Bouché Springer Netherlands. pp. 797–801. ISBN 978-1-4020-6242-1

Photo Credits:

  • This was brushed out of the cat this morning by Dr Zak at English Wikipedia Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

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